Film Review: THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN

“The Death of Superman” was the storyline that got me into comics.

It wasn’t what got me into superheroes, that happened much earlier, and I had read comics before as a little boy, but I had never feverishly devoured every issue that a character appeared in before that point.

I was hooked.

Well done, DC. Your master plan worked!

For this reason, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for the storyline and those that followed it. I’ve watched, played, or read just about every iteration of the story through its various formats, and while I enjoyed them all, I was never really satisfied with any of them.

That all changed with WB released their second go at an animated version of the tale with THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN.

Its follow-up, THE REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN, was also quite good — but stands slightly behind its predecessor in terms of execution and emotional impact.

Both of these films have been reviewed previously on BOF, so I won’t go too far into retread mode here. The real question is how well do the two movies come together to form one consolidated release.

The biggest challenge that THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN has to deal with is combining the two original releases into one super-sized movie — seamlessly tying together two separate films is tricky business, as each contains their own story structure and rely on different narrative elements to work.

Both were two distinct movies.

The first didn’t really end on a cliffhanger or a hard cut in the middle of the action before the credits rolled. Instead, it wrapped up its own narrative nicely and merely hinted at the follow-up film. The two play very much as a stand-alone movie that knew it was getting a sequel and its sequel that never quite reached the highs of what came before it.

Combining the two into one leaves the view with a film whose first half is excellent and engrossing and who’s second half is exciting, action-filled, but ultimately less rich. Unfortunately, the contrast between the two movies is all the more obvious in this structure and the back half drags a bit because of it.

Sure, there are some excellent scenes, but when the emotional core (Superman) of the first half is missing in the second things just feel a bit off.

Still, the work is very good overall.

The animation is well done and stands among the best of the DC animated films. The voice cast is excellent throughout and the plot mechanics behind Superman’s return (and the characters that rose up in his absence) are well-formed. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend nearly three hours, but I’d argue that you may enjoy taking in the two original releases in two separate hours and a half chunks.

WB has done a very nice job with the bonus content on this release. There are three separate featurettes taking a look at the history and legacy of Superman, a look at the character of Lex Luthor, and the creation of the ultimate battle between Superman and Doomsday — as well as selections from the DC Animation vault including episodes of The Legion of Superheroes, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, and the 2007 animated feature Superman: Doomsday.

Of the bonus materials, “Long Live Superman” stands above the rest as a truly fine introspective on the creation of Superman and his role in popular culture throughout the decades. The interviews are plentiful and feature an impressive list of top creators who have worked on the Man of Steel. It’s a love letter to Superman and one that is not to be missed.

Overall, this is a worthy purchase for a DC Animation Completist or Superman fanatic. I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already own the individual releases collected here without question and for the previously mentioned featurette alone.

Otherwise, you aren’t missing anything that wasn’t present in the separate releases and the films really do work better when viewed as originally intended. – Garret Grev

GRADE: B+

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